What happens when the raging bulldog bear of adversity charges into your life?

In the last blog we talked about having the ability to ‘bounce back’ from the adversity and challenge that comes and goes in all of our lives.  However, since posting that blog it occurred to me that, in psychological terms resilience is more about ‘bouncing forward’ rather than back.  Our lives are in constant motion so going ‘back’ to the way things were with respect to how we view ourselves, others and the world at large is not an option.  

More correctly the ‘bouncing back’ refers to your physiological rather than your psychological state. 

What happens to your body when you sense danger, whether real or imagined, causing upset and stress?   Well, in the first instance, your body’s innately natural defences rapidly kick into high gear.  This is called your stress-response, which is a normal physical (body) response to an event or events you perceive (mind) as dangerous to your life.

Your body begins to release stress hormones (including adrenaline and cortisol) which causes your heart to pump blood faster and your senses to become acutely sharper.  Voila, you have increased strength, stamina, and reaction time. 

This response was especially great for our cave-dwelling forefathers and mothers as they had about two seconds to decide whether to fly from or turn and fight a rampaging bulldog bear hungry for lunch.  These predators stood at 4 m (13 ft) upright and weighed about 800 kg (1,800 lb) so my guess is that running would have been the smartest option.     

The good news is that your body is hardwired to automatically respond to threatening situations.  However, the not so great news is this innate response to stressful situations is only meant to give you short bursts of energy; with your body returning to a homeostatic state when the danger is no more. 

Your stress-response mechanism isn’t meant to continue over long periods of time.  If you constantly perceive the events in your life as stressful or dangerous to what you believe life should be then your automatic stress-response valve stays constantly in the ‘on’ position.  This means that your body continues to release stress hormones which can lead to your:

  • Blood pressure rising
  • Tightened muscles stay in a perpetual state of constriction 
  • Thyroid hormones are continually released
  • Blood clotting
  • Digestive tract to shut down
  • Sugar continues to be released
  • Liver continues to dump cholesterol

All of which doesn’t make you very healthy or happy.

Some of the psychological costs of allowing your stress-response button staying in the ‘on’ position for a long period of time are that: 

  • You are more easily frustrated,  forgetful,  anxious
  • You begin to have poor concentration
  • Mood swings become the norm  
  • You develop a negative attitude
  • You are frequently ‘down’

The key to turning this stress-response button ‘off’ is to first become aware of your physiological and psychological state.  The next step is to take steps to turning the button off when it’s no longer serves you.

I’d really appreciate hearing your stories about how keeping the stress-response button full on effected your ability to positively respond to the challenges in your life. 

In the next blog we’ll look at some practices that will assist you in turning your stress-response button off.

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